United Nations

Briefing to the 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights

Commission on Human Rights Reform


Human Rights Watch calls on members to ensure the current review of the Commission is not used to undermine the body's effectiveness, but further strengthens its capacity to monitor, address and, where necessary, censure human rights violations. Furthermore, the review process should not divert the energy and resources of the CHR from its most essential duties, i.e. monitoring, protection and promotion of human rights. HRW highlights the membership of the Commission and the role of the Special Procedures as particularly critical issues.


The 58th session of the Commission on Human Rights has often been described as the most difficult in recent memory. Among the many contributing factors were the changing nature of the Commission membership and session time cuts which impacted negatively on the Special Procedures of the Commission, whose speaking time was cut to a symbolic minimum.

On the last day of the 58th session, the Commission adopted the resolution entitled "Enhancement of the working methods of the Commission" (2002/91), sponsored by Cuba, in which it decided to reopen the process of the review of the functioning of the Commission, including its mechanisms. Under the terms of the Resolution, the Office of the High Commissioner has compiled a series of proposals, based on submissions from member states, regional groups, NGOs, and others. This compilation will be submitted to the 59th session of the Commission.


In recent years, the membership of the Commission has changed significantly, with countries with poor human rights records gaining seats on the CHR and aggressively working toward making the Commission less hard hitting and relevant.

A state's willingness to cooperate with the CHR's Special Procedures should be a condition of eligibility for Commission membership. The Commission should insist that member states of the CHR or governments aspiring to membership of this body issue a standing invitation to all thematic Special Procedures of the CHR. Since the Special Procedures have all been established by resolutions of the Commission and since country missions are part of the working methods to fulfill their mandates, we believe that this would be a logical consequence of this membership. Thus, a standing invitation should be issued by all member states already serving or interested to serve as members.

In addition, governments willing to serve as CHR members should ratify key international human rights treaties and their optional protocols and should have a record of timely submissions of periodic reports to the treaty monitoring bodies.

Furthermore, governments which have been censured by the Commission in recent years for systematic or widespread abuses should not be elected to this body. Experience teaches that the participation of such governments in the Commission is often focused on minimizing the exposure of their own human rights record rather than on stigmatizing the worst human rights violations in the world and devising methods to bring about effective responses to these abuses.

These requirements should in particular be strictly observed with respect to governments seeking to be members of the CHR Bureau.

Special Procedures

The scenario that unfolded during the 58th session of the CHR when Special Rapporteurs and members of the Working Groups were disproportionately affected by time cuts must not be repeated.


The Commission needs to ensure that:

  • Each mandate holder be allocated sufficient time for his or her presentation and afforded an opportunity of a meaningful exchange with members during the plenary session of the CHR.

  • A segment should be created at the beginning of each CHR agenda item for the presentation and discussion of Special Procedures' reports of up to one hour per procedure, as is the current practice at the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly.

  • At each session there should be regular, focused and systematic deliberations on serious incidents or situations involving a failure or denial of cooperation by governments with the Commission or its mechanisms.

  • The Commission should request the Office of the High Commissioner to submit annually a country-by-country compilation of information and recommendations from the Special Procedures for the previous twelve months. The report should include information on the implementation of Special Procedures' recommendations and follow-up thereto.

  • The Commission should request the Office of the High Commissioner to submit a list of countries which CHR mechanisms have sought to visit, including information on the date of the first request by the mechanism, the response of the government, the status of discussions on a visit (if any) and the dates of the proposed visit.

  • For country‑specific mandates, the Commission's effectiveness and efficiency might be enhanced by establishing terms exceeding a single year where appropriate, as is the case with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.

February 27, 2003

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